Passing The Baton

10 Nov 2010 archivespeech

This speech is in relation to the matter of the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the passing of the first sex discrimination legislation in Australia, which was referred to also by my colleague the Minister for the Status of Women (Hon. Gail Gago) on the 10th of November 2010 in question time.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (15:29): I rise to speak to the matter of the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the passing of the first sex discrimination legislation in Australia, which was referred to also by my colleague the Minister for the Status of Women (Hon. Gail Gago) yesterday in question time.

At an event staged by the Don Dunstan Foundation, hundreds of women attended Bonython Hall at Adelaide University, at which a number of speeches were made. It was a great reunion of many older women activists, and it was entitled Passing the Baton.

I turn my remarks to the initiator of the legislation, Dr David Tonkin, the former member for Bragg and former premier, who promoted sexual equality because he was so profoundly influenced by his family's experience when he lost his father and his mother became a widow when David was aged just five. It is well known that David's mother felt unable to participate in the workforce due to the strictures of the age, which drove him to introduce the first bill on 29 August 1973.

He gave a speech which would be very appropriate in today's times, speaking of the progress of women, particularly in the 20th century and stating that the time for treating women as second-class citizens based on assumptions that go back to prehistoric times should end. He spoke of the historical exclusion from education, which effectively hindered women's development, and that the central role of reproduction and family responsibilities had for a long time defined women's identity and therefore their status in society.

However, he thought that that time had passed, and therefore his bill would have prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sex in employment, membership of unions and professional associations, education and training for employment and the supply of goods and services, with specific clauses relating to banks, insurance and financial products. Tonkin's bill was referred to a committee, which he feared was a mechanism to knock it off, but the committee found in favour of the need to introduce a bill, which was introduced under the auspices of the Dunstan government and passed in an amended form.

The committee's findings are an interesting read and included that there was discrimination in education and training, however, that those gender distinctions were disappearing. We now know that women comprise 55 per cent of university graduates. The committee noted discrimination in employment and thought that that would continue to be a resistant area to change because there were so few women who possessed the necessary qualifications and experience in that area. We know from the current research that that continues to be an issue. The committee also found about discrimination in financial matters that many women were denied credit by financial institutions because they needed to have a male guarantor.

The Equal Opportunity Act has taken over the sex discrimination act, and extension has been made to many grounds of unlawful discrimination to erase physical impairment, age and intellectual impairment. We have had reforms of same-sex laws more recently, and a number of other areas were passed through legislation in July last year in this place. There are number of women firsts we have been celebrating in recent years including, within our own parliament, the first female Leader of the Opposition, Isobel Redmond, and our first female Speaker, Lyn Breuer, and obviously our first female Prime Minister and Governor General. I note that our three recent additions to the Legislative Council are all outstanding women.

A lot of data is being tracked that is useful. Unfortunately, board positions continue to be absolutely appalling, with female representation on the ASX 200 still at 8.4 per cent, which has not changed much in the last eight years, but I am pleased to note that the ASX is changing its reporting requirements so that companies must disclose diversity policies and explain what they are doing to advance the cause. Employment continues to be a great frontier, with lack of pay equity, lower workforce participation and issues continuing with career advancement and sexual harassment. There are a number of areas we still need to address, but it is important to recognise how far we have come.